Gov. Dennis Daugaard opened South Dakota’s legislative session by proposing to eliminate tenure for new teachers and to award $15 million in bonuses to the state’s best teachers and those teaching math and science.
With House Bill 1234, the Committee on Education introduced his proposal to the House of Representatives for discussion in January.
Daugaard, a Republican, says he hopes to improve education in South Dakota by rewarding the best teachers and attracting more talented young adults to hard-to-fill math and science positions.
“We cannot simply pour more money into the same old system. Rather, we must focus on improving results, and spend creatively and strategically to achieve those results. The key to high achievement is great teaching, and we will invest the dollars it will take to make a difference,” Daugaard said in his State of the State speech.
The proposal includes $3,500 bonuses for math and science teachers, $5,000 bonuses for the top 20 percent of each district’s teachers, annual teacher evaluations, biannual evaluations for principals, and phasing out tenure for new teachers.
More Money, Little Results
In his address, Daugaard said South Dakota is spending more money than ever on its education system but student test scores aren’t improving.
In the past 40 years, South Dakota’s per-student spending has increased 230 percent and the number of staff per student nearly doubled. Though the number of students in public schools has decreased 28 percent, the number of teachers has increased 10 percent. Student test scores have changed little since 1971.
“A sizeable increase in our investment in education, over time, is not getting us better achievement. We are simply putting more money into the same system, and we are not getting significantly better results,” Daugaard said. “The key to obtaining high achievement in the classroom is not more spending. It is effective teachers.”
Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-Rapid City) said the South Dakota legislature is discussing how to implement the governor’s proposals.
“We’ve just seen the actual bill for the first time. We will be looking at that to see where discussion should go from here,” Sly said.
Democrat, Union Opposition
Even before the bill reached the House, Daugaard’s proposal faced opposition from teachers unions and the state’s Democratic Party—who decried it on their website as an attack upon teachers.
Rep. Jim Bolin (R-Canton), a retired teacher, says he opposes the bill for different reasons.
“I oppose the bill because, in South Dakota, we have a strong history of local control about teacher evaluation and teacher hiring,” Bolin said. “I’m a proponent of local control.”
Individual districts, he says, should have the ability to evaluate and reward schools as they choose.
In addition to opposing the loss in local control, Bolin says he disagrees with increasing state education spending.
“It would require a $15 to $17 million continual obligation from the state expressly for schools,” he said.